Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon
Back when I was a boychik in the rough streets of downtown Bay Shore, I had a bit of a schtick. (There will be no more Yiddish in this article, but “Happy New Year” to my Jewish friends.) My deal was this, “Bartender! Give me a shot of what ever other people don’t like.” At my current age and wisdom, this would not be something I would do, not because I fear the result, but more that I think it’s rather annoying to a busy bartender to figure out what shit to serve me. But back then, it was my wont to sit at the bar with my friend Mr. W?, also of Bay Shore, and pass the time away by drinking shots from the bottles that had gathered a bit of dust. We tried to time it at points of lull in the bar, so as not to earn the bartender’s ire.
In fact, what would often happen, and this encouraged us the more, was the bartender would serve us shot after shot of the dusty bottle at the back of the bar at little to no cost to us, since no one else was going to be drinking it. We tipped well, of course.
An aside. Always tip well. There may be a point in the future where we, as Americans, don’t tip our waitstaff, rather they will be paid fair wages by the establishment. This is fine. We’ll call it a bribe then. Always bribe the bartender. When Mr. W? and I sat at the bar, our first order was something ordinary, and we would tip—I mean, bribe—well. From that point on, the dusty bottle was ours.
So what did we get? Almost always a sambuca clone—licorice- or anise-flavored liquors. I’ll bet many people will wince just reading that; it’s very unpopular. But, ho! We drank anisette and black sambuca and Jagermeister, which was not at all popular back then. Is it now? I really have no idea. Anyway, we inwardly chuckled at the bartenders who thought Jager was a horrible shot. It was candy.
Months went by on this gig. We would try anything, and the bartenders who remembered us (and our tips) would have something new to try. Cinnamon, high octane rum, Bénédictine, whatever it was, we drank it, and we enjoyed it.
And then one night, already swaying from the effects of too many drinks, I called to the bartender, “Give me the worst shot you have!” He should not have served me. But Bacchus had me in his grasp. “What is it?” I asked when he served me a shot of innocuous amber.
“Wild Turkey,” he said. I downed it.
My shock was probably due to everything I had before, I admit. This was not a good time to be trying whiskey. But, then, bottoms up! I could have died.
Can I describe the awful taste? Bile, maybe? Heat for sure, but heat wasn’t anything I had shied away from. It literally knocked me back into a load bearing pillar that was behind me. I lost my breath. Tears filled my eyes. It was THE WORST as in a movie marquee that hung above my head. For years after, I had used that shot of Wild Turkey as a lesson to those who would dare follow in my path. Nope. No. Don’t do it. Never would these lips try another drop of Wild Turkey.Some twenty-five years later, Mrs. Ferment’s brother came by with a bottle of Wild Turkey 101, a bourbon. I was reticent and skeptical. Time had, of course, sanded away some of the sharp hatred I had for the brand itself. And I’d learned to appreciate whiskey. I’d also learned to sip a god damned drink instead of gulping it down like a freshman. One-hundred and one proof? Sounded too hot. But maybe—maybe I would try it.
My brother-in-law was content to have it with cola. He had found nothing offensive about it, nor did he have a negative association with the Wild Turkey name. Why not try it? I poured a heavy ounce of bourbon in a glass with a couple of drops of water and sipped tentatively.
Sometimes, past lessons are helpful in guiding us in the present. Sometimes, it makes sense to rely on what you have learned. And then, sometimes maybe it’s time to realize that some of these lessons were based on one sample twenty-six years before when you were already drunk. There was absolutely nothing objectionable about the bourbon. It was, all around, quite good. I didn’t drink it to judge it, but its surprisingly good taste made it worthy of (an awful lot of words in this) review.
Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon
- Spicy with some corn mash sweetness, apple
- Hot, but reasonable for 101 proof, sweet and spicy
- Really works on the finish, fruity and spicy
On the nose, it smells like a decent sweet bourbon. There’s a lot of heat on the body and finish, but water or ice teases out the sweet notes of wood aging, toffee and vanilla. There’s a good amount of spice, besides the heat, which is from the high rye content, unusual for a bourbon. I prefer rye over bourbon, which may explain my positive reception.
This is, yes, not the same whiskey I had when I was a wee drinker (always above the legal age, mind). But it has removed the movie marquee that hung above the brand itself. I’ve read positive reviews of the straight Wild Turkey in the last few years, which I couldn’t quite trust. But even if the bartender and I agreed back then that Wild Turkey was crap, twenty five years is a long time in the booze business. It is highly doubtful that what was bottled then was anything close to what’s being made now. I’m willing to try the regular stuff, is what I’m saying. Someone, please come over with it, is also what I’m saying. I don’t think I would chance to buy it, that it might bring back that vile taste that knocked me down those two-dozen years before. It would take me, I dunno, a couple of weeks to finish a bottle that awful.